Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
My father-in-law, Jake, passed away at home one month ago. But the night before he passed was anything but peaceful. He grew restive, and kept calling on my wife and me to help him with trivial things. Then he began hallucinating. His pain increased, and the pain medication from hospice was not helping. He was a strong man, even up to his death. He kept trying to crawl out of his hospice-provided hospital bed, and it was all I could do to keep him in place.
At about midnight we felt desperate and called hospice. They sent out a nurse who lived an hour-and-a-half away. That hour-and-a-half of waiting for her arrival seemed like a year-and-a-half. Jake would not sit still. He writhed about in pain. Sometimes he seemed to imagine that he was cooking and eating, based upon the way he moved his hands. He bit hard into his hand several times, and drew blood, thinking he was eating.
Finally the nurse arrived. She gave him a strong dose of morphine. But still Jake struggled, cried out in pain, hallucinated, and kept biting his hand. It took about an hour for the morphine to ease his pain and calm him down. At about 2:30 am he fell asleep. The nurse went home, and my wife and I managed to catch a few hours of sleep, ourselves.
Jake never woke up. Thank God! No, thank morphine!! He peacefully ceased breathing the next afternoon. This “peaceful cessation” must be what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was referring to.
Kubler-Ross fails to mention the vital role of morphine in achieving a peaceful death. Some people just have to have it. Death is not always as easy as sometimes portrayed. When the miracle of modern medicine manages to keep us alive into our eighties and nineties, we may need another medical miracle to achieve a peaceful death. Morphine seems to be the answer.
I hope Jake truly is in a better place. He was a flawed man, but overall a good man. It was an honor to be by his side during his last hours, and to help ease his pain and his transition to whatever lies beyond. If you find yourself in a position to do the same for somebody you love, do not hesitate. You will never regret being there for that person.
Just don’t forget the morphine.